An hour west of uptown Charlotte, just over the state line in South Carolina, sits 36 acres of hardwoods, dogwoods, wildflowers, ferns and meadows called Kings Mountain Preserve. A creek runs through the property, as do three miles of hiking trails.
It’s a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and also a peaceful, eternal resting place for loved ones. The land is a conservation burial ground for “green burials,” or environmentally friendly burials, and also boasts a retreat center, pavilion and outdoor chapel.
Terry Robertson, owner of Robertson Funeral and Cremation Service in Charlotte, purchased the property at 321 Indian Springs Road in Blacksburg, S.C., to give families more options. Located 20 minutes from historic Kings Mountain State Park, it’s the first combination conservation burial ground and funeral home on the East Coast and the second in the nation.
“It celebrates life through the interconnectedness we have with nature as one whole community,” Robertson said.
Robertson has been in the traditional funeral industry since the early 1990s. He started thinking about alternative burials after he was diagnosed with neck cancer. Doctors told him exposure to carcinogens while in the embalming room may have caused his disease and gave him a 30% chance to live. That was 20 years ago.
Robertson wants people to know they don’t have to be embalmed (preserved with formaldehyde-based chemicals) when they die. A green burial uses non-toxic or no chemicals and burial containers are 100% biodegradable. This reduces carbon emissions, conserves natural resources and makes the process safer for workers and the environment, Robertson said.
Kings Mountain Preserve doesn’t look like a traditional cemetery. Instead of a field of tombstones among trimmed grass, burial spaces are located along nature trails and among the trees and plants. Native stones which can be engraved are all that mark the graves.
Scattering of cremains (cremated remains) is not allowed as it can kill the plants, and vaults (concrete containers that enclose a coffin to help prevent a grave from sinking) are prohibited. Only natural, biodegradable materials are used.
Robertson said workers hand-dig all graves, removing the dirt in three layers and replacing it the same way. This helps foster plant life and maintain the ecosystems in the soil.
“No traditional cemetery does that,” Robertson said. “They take a backhoe and they dig it out and they put it back in.”
The retreat center is a separate, two-acre property on the grounds of the preserve that includes a 1,600-square-foot pavilion for up to 100 people, an outdoor chapel that seats 50 people and a custom-built cabin that sleeps six. All are available for a variety of events including weddings, funerals, reunions, receptions and spiritual and wellness retreats.
“We are really trying to frame this as a place people can go to have a life celebration, rather than a funeral,” Robertson said.
“You might think, ‘Why would you want to get married where there’s a cemetery?’” Robertson added. “Well, people get married at churches all the time but there’s usually a cemetery behind the church, but they don’t think about it like that.”
Robertson said burial prices at Kings Mountain Preserve are a fraction of what a traditional funeral costs, making a green burial an ideal option for anyone who is also financially conscious.
A percentage of sales goes into a permanent endowment for the care of the space. Once native vegetation is in place, it is free to grow. Robertson said the endowment mainly functions to keep trails and public spaces open. It also helps keep invasive species at bay and helps in special circumstances, such as after a natural disaster.
“Outside of the pavilion area, we’re not mowing grass and we’re not watering plants,” Robertson said. “Frankly, the most expensive operational cost that a cemetery has, other than staff, is maintaining the cemetery.”
Kings Mountain Preserve will grow by an additional 35 acres in the near future and it will never go away. Robertson said Upstate Forever Land Trust protects the land and water from development by enforcing a Perpetual Conservation Easement, ensuring its use for future generations to enjoy.
“It’s just something that should give anyone that’s purchasing a space some comfort,” Robertson said. “There’s no more forceable means to protect land than what we have.”
Visit the preserve
Kings Mountain Preserve and Retreat Center is open to the public on Saturdays for a seminar, hike and tour of the property. Visit www.kingsmountainpreserve.com for details.